The MetroTrends blog marks the start of the new school year with an assessment of the student population, and an interactive graphic that shows how, despite increasing diversity, many of our schools remain segregated.
Fifty million children will start school this week as historic changes are under way in the U.S. public school system. As of 2011 48 percent of all public school students were poor* and this year, students of color will account for the majority of public school students for the first time in US history.
What is surprising about these shifts is that they are not leading to more diverse schools. In fact, the Civil Rights Project has shown that black students are just as segregated today as they were in in the late 1960s, when serious enforcement of desegregation plans first began following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
In an increasingly diverse society, our public schools give us the unique opportunity to cross traditional racial and class boundaries. Ideally, they would be spaces where students can interact with and learn from peers with backgrounds different than their own, ensuring that future generations have friends outside their own racial group and helping mold them into productive members of a multi-racial society. Unfortunately, this potentially productive exchange is not happening in most public schools across the country.
Where do we stand in Georgia? That depends on where you are. In Cobb County, for example, 42% of the student body is white. Yet, 72% of those students attend a majority white school. Compare that to Gwinnett County, where 31% of the school population is white, and only 39% of those white students attend a majority white school.
A more striking example exists in a comparison of schools in Fulton County vs. schools in Chatham County. In Chatham, 45% of white students attend a majority white school. 28% of the district’s students are white. In Fulton, of the 26% of the student body that is white, a whopping 70% attend class in a majority white school.
Here is the interactive map from which you can determine the racial composition of students in each county during the 2011-2012 school year, nationwide. Mouse over a county to see it’s percentages.
The maps don’t tell the entire story, obviously, Once the population of one racial group gets above a certain level, it becomes more difficult to achieve racial balance. Take Forsyth County, which is 75% white, yet 99% of white students attend a majority white school. Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, Clayton County’s schools are only 3% white, making it almost an impossibility for students to attend a majority white school. None do.
In a fully homogenous society, one would expect the composition of the student population in each school to match the percentage of each group within the population of the entire county. While we won’t get there completely, it’s clear that some districts are closer to that goal than others are. Following the passage of the Civil Rights Act in the mid-60s, forced desegregation via busing students to faraway schools was tried, and was largely abandoned by the min 90s. Voluntary “minority to majority” enrollment systems have been tried, and some continue through today.
Could charter schools be part of the answer? While some have argued that charter schools are no more diverse than the public schools they replace, other studies have shown they do increase diversity.
What else can or should be done to try to achieve racial balance in our schools? Tell us in the comments.